Friday, 14 January 2011

12.20 Appointment

On the letter they sent me it said to bring two different forms of ID. I slip three - passport, driving licence and household bill - into the plastic sleeve and check again that I've got the right day, date and time. 

The bus journey there is slow and loud - something wrong with the upstairs aircon - but I've still time to get a drink. In a coffee shop chain I don't normally go to, an assistant takes my order and holds up a small and a medium cup - one a thimble, the other a bucket with something like a ten pence price difference. I push instinct to one side and opt for the larger of the two.

It tastes horrid so I leave half, wishing I'd got tea.

A quartet of guards is on duty in the foyer of the building my appointment is in. It's the complete airport security experience without the option of flying - bags in trays, pocket contents emptied, x-ray machines and arms out turn around.  I'm only going as far as the seventh floor.

The waiting area, to which I've been directed by a couple of A4 landscape posters pinned to a door and a wall, is hot. The signs instruct visitors that there is NO NEED to go to reception but to take a seat and wait. I do what I'm told.

The office the woman calls me into is small. For a moment I don't know where to put my bags - floor, chair, lap. Whilst I'm bothering and dithering, the official slides four stapled sheets of paper across the desk, folds over the top one and asks me to check the document. I go through it and then she reads it back to me placing some ticks in boxes as she does so before asking me to sign at the bottom.

These two simple actions take no longer than a couple of minutes. I try to concentrate but I'm aware that a quick speed conflict is brewing in my head as the worry that I might have to say that I think I'm going to cry jostles with the rational thought to just get the thing done and not be so silly.

My mother's full name, date of birth, date of death and age are printed in Arial bold at the top of the page. Apart from her address, I don't recall any of the other information on it.

I hadn't expected to feel tearful. In fact I hadn't anticipated that any 'feelings' would be joining me at this please-check-the-details-and-sign-here-twice event.

But it's not the right place in which to emote. The purpose of this office is to function as part of a departmental machine where paper is processed, stamped and filed. There are no soft effects in the form of flowers, magazines tissue boxes or sympathetic smiles to accommodate or invite tears. On this occasion - thankfully for me and the woman opposite - I manage to swallow the lump in my throat.

I judge the pen she hands me as tricky to write with and I can't grip it properly. It's too spindly in my fingers which happens to be where my emotions have now congregated.

There's a brief respite from the tangle of thoughts in my head where I concur with myself that the observation about the pen was correct. The twitchy digits won't be calmed though and between my fingers it seems possessed with cartoonish energy that I can only control enough to make a spiky squiggle before we reach the crux of our meeting.

"Old Testament?" The official offers, as if it were were a toffee from a bag. I go ahead and read out the four lines from the pale blue, laminated card which looks like it's been stuck on top of this particular holy book. I attempt a final jiggery jaggery signature and the next step of the procedure is explained. Something something ten days, something something sealed envelope something something.

Outside the offices, I'm not certain what to do next. Across the road is the cafe and I remember the thought I had about what my mum would have said about a disappointing cup of coffee.


"Should have got tea."


  1. You've captured exactly how I felt when my father passed, and I had to help my mom with all the formalities. It's a harsh reality (all so impersonal for such a personal matter), to face and there's barely time to cry.
    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. Jayne - Thank you so much.

    There's no simple, pain free path through it is there?

  3. Really wonderful post. Such great observations - it's the minutae that make writing like this truly great.

    Hope you're doing okay.

  4. You managed to bring a beautiful piece of writing out of this impersonal at best event.

    Wish you well.

  5. It's the littlest things sometimes that reminds me of a loved one, loved that line about the "should've got tea". You captured this so beautifully. Thanks.

  6. I was directed to your post by Baglady- this post captured my attention from the very start- I thought it was brilliant how you contrasted the colourful character of your mum in simply the word 'ghastly' with how bland the office was. Thank you for sharing this.

  7. Baglady - I'm doing okay. Thank you. And also for directing traffic too!

    Shopgirl - Know what you mean about little things as reminders.

    Bth - Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Really funny that you should use the word 'colourful'. I'd definitely have described my mum that way!

  8. This weblog is being featured on Five Star Friday!

  9. None whatsoever, SF, you can't go around it, under or over it, you've got to through it.
    Be well.

  10. Dear Sensible, You will always hear your mother's voice, I'm sure. My father died eleven years ago and my mother three but they are still very much part of my life.
    Lovely writing.